I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.by Sarah Pinborough
Published by Earthling Publications on October 10, 2016
Genres: Crime, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Noir, Occult & Supernatural, Psychological Horror, Thriller
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Seventeen-year-old Anna has a space in her memory of a night her brain won’t let her remember, a night that devastated her life and forced her to drop out of high school. Her grandmother, Evelyn, is slowly losing her memories to Alzheimer’s. When the family moves into a forgotten house on the outskirts of Evelyn’s home town, it's supposed to be a fresh start and a quieter life for all of them.
But when Evelyn starts behaving strangely in her lost moments, it’s Anna who witnesses it. It’s Anna who helps her. And as she’s drawn into life in the town and learns some of its recent gruesome history, she can’t help but being to wonder if the dead are trying to talk through Evelyn’s empty spaces. And if so, what is it they’re trying to tell her?
THEY SAY A GIRL DIED HERE ONCE, by Sarah Pinborough, is book #12 in Earthling Publication’s Halloween Series, for 2016. I’ve been a fan of Pinborough’s style for quite some time now. She brings her characters to life with their emotions, even more so than their actions. Another strength of hers is setting up a realistic atmosphere that ensnares the reader into it–much like a spider’s web–keeping them mentally “trapped” in her novel, unable to focus on anything external while reading it.
This particular novel struck me very strongly as “psychological horror”, because the emotions and internal conflict are so prominent throughout. However, there are still plenty of physical horror elements, entwined with several mysteries, that all combine in this evocative tale.
We begin with Anna’s Grandmother, Evelyn, buying a house near her old hometown, in order that they might all escape from a traumatic “incident” that happened to Anna–effectively marking her as a pariah in the former town, and giving them all (Anna, her younger sister, Caroline, mother Claire, and Evelyn–who is now showing the effects of the onset of Alzheimer’s) a change and a chance to have a fresh start. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of this town showcases more of a decay than a new life: “. . . It was a town being swallowed up by dust. Struggling to stay alive but dying all the same . . .” Despite the surly attitude that Anna is determined to portray outwardly, she is racked with guilt inside–knowing that this move was all on account of her, and that awful, fateful night in her past.
“. . . Anna had trapped them all in that night even if they never talked about it . . . “
At the heart of this novel is the relationship between Anna and Grandma Evelyn–who she feels “blames” her for the episode in her past. As the two grow increasingly closer due to their own missing “memories”, Anna begins to wonder, ” . . . when Grandma got lost, how far did she go? . . . What if, when her mind was lost, she reached a place the dead could talk to her? . . . “
Amidst all of the internal drama, we then have the small town itself–with all of its small town secrets.
“They say a girl died here once . . . “
In the hands of Pinborough, we have a novel full of emotion, death, mystery, suspense, and of course, the human drama–exemplified by the cruelty of others; rumors, jealousy, resentment, and unfounded allegations. As Anna, who just wanted to “disappear” in the eyes of others soon discovers: “. . . there was no good way to try and be invisible to people who insist on seeing you.”
This is a spellbinding tale that kept me thinking about those all-too-real characters, and the things that might harbor in the empty spaces our mind sometimes creates; whether from a disease, or some other trauma.